Dignity is a basic human need; it’s our sense of self-worth, respect and esteem. Preserving dignity in another person means respecting their whole self and caregiving in a way that respects their preferences and individuality. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a caregiver is to know you’ve provided dignified care.
So, how do we know what to do? It’s helpful to think about the person as you have always known them and what they may like or dislike.
Practical tips also can guide you on your caregiving journey:
Approach the person with respect.
Introduce yourself, if needed. Address them by their name. Always announce yourself when you enter a room. Even if you are taking care of a loved one, you may have to remind them of who you are. If they are your loved one, call them by the name you’ve always used. Be intentional and attentive.
Remember the person has the right to make their own decisions (unless there is a significant brain injury or cognitive impairment).
Allow the person to make choices. We all need to feel in some type of control over our lives. If the person is unable to make decisions, give them simple options, like the choice between two different shirts, etc. People like their own styles and no one wants to wear something that isn’t “them.” Something as simple as not allowing a person to choose their own clothing can affect their dignity.
Involve the person in conversations.
Do not talk over the person as if they are not there. Include the individual in decision-making and ask their opinion. It will help them feel appreciated and respected. Involve the person in any discussions concerning their care.
In addition, talking with the person provides them with social interaction and can lift spirits. Allow them to lead the conversation as much as possible and actively listen and be engaged in the conversation.
Tell them what you are doing. Ask their permission.
Before doing anything, we should always ask permission. It can be as simple as, “I want to help you with a bath. Is that okay?” Show that you are interested and ready to help. Be compassionate and respectful at all times.
Always respect their privacy.
When providing care, close the door (even if they are in their own home). Most of us get dressed/undressed, shower and go to the bathroom with the door closed. This doesn’t change as our ability to care for ourselves changes. Always knock on closed doors, this is respectful and can avoid embarrassing situations. Protect their privacy and modesty.
In addition, it is important to respect their privacy in their home. Knock on the door before entering and wait for a response. If the person is nonverbal or unable to give a response, knock on the door, wait a minute and announce yourself as you enter.
Keep the person’s body covered as much as possible while providing care.
This is an extension of maintaining a person’s modesty, especially when providing a bed bath or even while a person is using the bathroom. It is important to drape a towel or sheet over parts of the body that aren’t being washed.
For example, if providing a bed bath, keep a sheet or towel over the lower half of the body while washing the upper half. Cover as much as you can until it needs to be uncovered to provide care. When a person is sitting on the toilet, a towel draped over their legs can provide privacy and maintain dignity.
Respect their possessions and personal space.
When providing care or cleaning, remember to ask permission before moving something. Asking is a simple act you can do to show the person you respect them and their possessions. It also often instills trust. After you’re done with your tasks, always return items to their original place.
So often a person’s dignity is lost as they lose their ability to function and as the disease progresses. If we remember to “treat others as we would like to be treated” and put ourselves in our loved one’s position, we often can help maintain their dignity.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.